Updated: Aug 3, 2020
You have to know your audience and keep them engaged from the beginning of a show till the end with moments. I’ve worked with singers in a band and turned an entire show into a soap opera by the end of a show. The underlying theme of the show was about relationships. The audience had no idea from the beginning what was going on, but were laughing hysterically throughout the show as the relationships unfolded.
We started with this hip chick on stage alone with her guitarist who she subtly eyed the whole time throughout the show. We played him and another male singer against each other in a battle of the fittest. The songs we chose related to the tension between the characters. At some points during rehearsals, the band was howling with laughter as we had fun creating the drama. What was even better, was it was a different show each time they performed it. They new their own characters and the flow of the show. Each new audience brought different energy and characters into the mix, so it was always a new experience for everyone.
One thing to keep in mind is spontaneity. You never get on a stage virtual or live music venue and just wing it. The soap opera theme would never have been as effective without planning it out with a logical order. The flow of your show can change and you can be spontaneous in the moment because of practice, woodshedding, and show mode rehearsals where everyone is giving it 100%. You need to know what is going to happen to be spontaneous at any given moment.
Different audiences prefer different experiences. A group of middle-aged women who watch soap operas was the perfect audience to create the above experience. A bunch of dudes in their 40’s from the midwest are probably more interested in action stories than soap operas. Intense musicality and tasty arrangements with behind the music commentary about the ’80s and '90s music might play best to them.
Your first moment in your performance is that first one or two level 3 songs. You're just getting to know your audience. They’re learning a little about you and what to expect. You’ve gathered up your audience with your musical intro, giving them a chance to taste your music, and now you’re going to knock them out with something unexpected. Your number 3 song is that opportunity to show them something different. A really great song with a twist. In their mind, they should say "wow I didn’t know this artist or band could go there.” They’re also going to feel like they getting to know you better. That’s how you hook an audience and build superfans.
So what is your next song going to be? Your number 4 song in your performance should be another contrasting moment. The audience will stick around a little longer and say again, this act is different than I thought they were before.
You’ve probably noticed online or in live musical venues, people tend to float. They likely don’t hang out for more than 3 songs in a bar hop or when surfing and coming across your live virtual concert. Why? They already made a decision about who you are and ready to find a new experience to keep their buzz going. In order to keep them, we have to keep massaging their egos, including them in the show or showing them something different or meaningful.
What are some ways to mix up your virtual content and live performances?
Change the type, style, or groove of the music you are playing
Change the instrumentation or go without instruments
Change roles and feature someone different
Change the story and focus on keeping them laughing
Change positions on your stage or the vantage point for your viewers in a live stream
That’s really the fun part of being a live music producer and why I love my job. You can’t go into the studio as a musician, lay down your part in the sound booth, and sit behind the console in the mixing room at the same time. Your studio engineer has the vantage point of the audience and is listening to the big picture mixing for you. That’s why you need to look at your performance and your show from the audience's perspective from the beginning. Try and design these moments while you are practicing for your performance.
Most cover bands and artists live or virtual tend to cover arrangements or play their originals like the record. You can get 10 to 15 songs into a show in about an hour this way. Realistically if you are doing this, you’re probably not building in the moments to make it count for your audience. You should really be building 6 to 8 songs or moments within a performance that should last an hour.
Depending on whether you are producing a mini set or full show performance, the different moments you are creating are going to lead to a pivotal moment. This is a fun moment you’d find in a Lady Gaga concert where she drops out of the ceiling with a crystal ball and a grand piano to land on the stage. In reality, most of us aren’t going to replicate that experience, but this puts you in the right mindset to dream up something really fun and different. This moment should completely exhaust the audience's senses so that they just want to chill afterward. This creates space for your next moment. The great thing about this process is you’ve gained their trust by this point and they’re ready to fully listen to you. This could be your opportunity to introduce a new original song or step out on the front of the stage with just a guitar and feed their souls. This could be a cause or testimonial moment and the reason why you created the event. This should paint a picture of why you don’t want to get too deep too quick with your audience upfront. There is time for that.
For virtual performers, also think of creating content in seasons. Create a build-up of different kinds of moments before you start sharing your why. The audience will have more time getting to know you and want to listen to your cause, support you, and buy into your platform. If you post regularly and are building a solid group of followers, a live virtual performance can be that opportunity you’ve saved up to really connect with your audience and tell your story.
We’ve all been to a concert where we know the build-up to the end is coming. We’ve taken the audience on a roller coaster, connected, built trust, brought them down, and started building them back up with creative moments for that final big moment. This could be 2 or 3 songs, but the audience needs to feel it.
Just like that dating relationship, you want that experience to end on a high note so they’ll want to see you again.
Your finale moment needs to be another transition. You need to show them something different, include them in the moment, and set an expectation this is not the end. You’re restating what they experienced, why, and when you hope to connect with them again. Every event and live performance should be a segway to the next one and state a call to action. This will set your fans up to engage with you after the show, buy your albums or merchandise, and share your story or performance with others. If you’ve executed a fantastic performance, they want this. They want to be part of your success and promotion. Plan for it and make space in your finale to sell yourself forward. You were made to count!